A newspaper as tocsin

The Washington Post made news this week with a new slogan at the top its homepage: “Democracy dies in darkness.”

Newspaper slogans are not new, of course. The New York Times has “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The Chicago Tribune is “The World’s Greatest Newspaper.”

In North Carolina, The News & Observer of Raleigh calls itself “The Old Reliable.” For decades, it has also published this quote from publisher Josephus Daniels:


When I posted this image to Twitter in a discussion about the Post’s new motto, a few followers took note of “tocsin” in the quote. It is an unusual word, one that I looked up when I started working at the N&O many years ago.

A “tocsin” is an alarm bell or warning signal. Here is what the Merriam-Webster online dictionary says about the word:

Tocsin long referred to the ringing of church bells to signal events of importance to local villagers, including dangerous events such as attacks. Its use was eventually broadened to cover anything that signals danger or trouble.

A news organization does many things. It informs and entertains. It serves as a check on government and powerful institutions. And on occasion, it warns of dangers to our well-being: physically, mentally, emotionally and politically.

Like Daniels, I would wish that the N&O, the Post and other news organizations will continue to be “the tocsin” for years to come.

1 thought on “A newspaper as tocsin”

  1. Tocsin, a new word for me and a fine addition to my vocabulary that now needs more than plenty of warning words. Newspapers, do your duty.

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